Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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YIRGA Gelaw Woldeyes, Curtin University

A call to decolonise Ethiopian studies is not an attempt to invalidate or discredit previous studies on Ethiopia. It is an attempt to critically reflect on modern representations of Ethiopia in light of the lived experiences, traditions and philosophies of its people. This paper critically reflects on two epistemological narratives that guide the study of Ethiopian history and traditions. The first is the narrative of traditionalism that portrays Ethiopian traditions either as barbaric or romantic expressions of bygone days. Traditionalism is commonly narrated in the study of Ethiopian history, culture and politics using the theme of war, victory, famine and an ancient civilization. The second is the narrative of globalism that portrays the existence of an international order that necessitates the integration of Ethiopia into the global system of ideas. Globalism is commonly used to justify the imitation of western ways of knowing, as can be seen in the imitation of western curriculum and language in education. Both traditionalism and globalism are dominant power positions rooted in western epistemology. They guide the selection, production and distribution of knowledges about Ethiopia while simultaneously excluding the lived experiences and local knowledges of the country from education. The paper challenges the two narratives by presenting a genealogy of silenced stories, local ways of being and knowing, philosophical traditions and lived experiences that are excluded from the education system. Finally, the paper distinguishes these two narratives from a third epistemological position, which is the use of Ethiopia’s indigenous knowledges and lived experiences as the starting point of inquiry and education. Ethiopia as method is a search for decolonising methodologies from Ethiopian experiences and traditions against the domination of western epistemology in the country and beyond.